Most Jews have no problem with science; the challenge is often getting them excited about Judaism. So how can we use science as a way to engage our communities? What are the biggest, most interesting and most pressing questions in the scientific community that also influence Jewish thought and Jewish living? And how can we bring both science and Judaism together to enhance our lives and our communities?
The American Association for the Advancement of Science Program of Dialogue on Science, Ethics and Religion and Sinai and Synapses explored these questions through a series of webinars hosted by Clal – The National Jewish Center for Learning and Leadership, and funded by the John Templeton Foundation.
What if we could use the principle of psychology not just to treat problems and shortcomings, but to reach our greatest potential? What are the best qualities of individuals and communities, transcending history, place and culture? And how do we stay conscious of, and use, these virtues in a chaotic, confusing world?
Judith Donath, Berkman-Klein Center for Internet and Society, Harvard University
New ways of meeting and keeping in contact with each other, such as social media, present us with a whole new set of information on which we can base our judgments of others. How have social rituals, like remembering birthdays, been changed by the enhanced prosthetic memory that digital communication affords us? How do we decide who is and isn’t trustworthy in this environment? And finally, what happens when the object of our judgment is a computer or robot – how do we assess trustworthiness then?
Prenatal genetic testing has grown enormously in recent years in both its ability to prevent life-threatening illnesses and the number of people it has helped. What if we used genetics to learn about and pursue our highest potential? And what if genetic technology in humans raised the bar of that potential through the ability to modify and enhance our genes? Genetic modification in humans brings us to previously uncharted territory.
As we discover more exoplanets, and learn just how expansive our universe is, how do we situate ourselves in the cosmos? Are we insignificant, or are we special?
What blocks us from being compassionate, and what engenders more compassion in others? How do we respond to people who are different from us, or who might hold different beliefs?
As we discover more and more about the brain, will neuroscientific “explanations” about moral behavior become “excuses”? How “free”are we, and how would we even know?
Deena Gottlieb, Rabbinical Student at Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion
Why are humans religious? As an aspiring rabbi, this is a central question of my life.
In addition to webinars, here are other content resources for Jewish professionals to use science in their work.
Bring world-class science into your classroom with a compelling short film series from the American Association for the Advancement of Science.
Most Jews are probably more likely to read the New York Times science section or watch “Cosmos” than to engage in Talmud study.